THU AM News: State Supreme Court rules on COVID-19 business losses case; ‘Internal nurse traveler’ program helping UW Health fill shifts, retain nurses

— A unanimous state Supreme Court ruled bars and restaurants that lost business due to COVID-19 restrictions on in-person dining can’t recover some of their losses through their insurance policies.

The court found losing the ability to use in-person dining space doesn’t qualify as a direct physical loss or damage to property under a policy with Society Insurance. It also found presence of COVID-19 on a bar or restaurants’ property forcing the suspension of operations doesn’t entitle them to coverage under the policy’s contamination provision.

Colectivo Coffee Roasters Inc. filed a claim with Society Insurance seeking to recoup COVID-19 losses through a policy it purchased in February 2020, shortly before the pandemic took hold in Wisconsin. It cited the stay-at-home order issued by the Evers administration that barred in-person dining.

The policy covers “direct physical loss or damage” to buildings, equipment and other property as well as the losses resulting from the damage. It also includes a provision covering lost income and extra expenses due to “contamination” of the property or an order by a civil authority preventing the business from accessing the property.

Society denied the claim on grounds Colectivo hadn’t suffered a direct physical loss. Collectivo then filed a class-action claim with other policyholders named as plaintiffs.

A circuit court denied the motion to dismiss Colectivo’s class-action complaint seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as breach of contract. That decision was then appealed.

The Supreme Court found the provision applying to damage only applied if there had been a physical loss or damage to Colectivo’s property or the surrounding property that requires it to be repaired, rebuilt or replaced. Being closed due to COVID doesn’t meet that standard, the court ruled.

The court also found the contamination provisions didn’t apply for three reasons: Colectivo didn’t suspend operations due to the presence of COVID-19 but because of the stay-at-home order; that directive didn’t prohibit access to the property, but restricted how it could be used; and the order didn’t prohibit Colectivo from producing products, but from serving them for in-person dining.

Colectivo did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

See the ruling:

— UW Health has created an “internal nurse traveler” program aimed at filling open shifts and retaining existing employees. 

Through the program, launched earlier this year, nurses working at UW Health can pick up an extra shift per week for six weeks and get paid an additional $100 per hour above the base pay rate for that shift. 

UW Health Chief Nurse Executive Rudy Jackson says this program is preferable to hiring external traveler nurses, which many employers have relied upon during the pandemic. Traveler nurses are typically paid much more than a standard nurse employee to fill short-term positions. 

“Using an external agency isn’t ideal,” Jackson said in a release. “It is costly to bring in travelers and it means bringing in nurses who might not be familiar with our systems, our teams and our patients’ unique needs.” 

He said over 90 percent of open nursing shifts were filled “within days” of the program being announced. 

UW Health employs about 3,300 nurses across its hospitals and clinics. UW Health Press Secretary Emily Kumlien said each six-week round of the internal traveler program has had between 500 and 600 nurses sign up for the extra shift. The health system continues to have between 70 and 80 external nurse travelers working in emergency and inpatient areas. 

“Currently, external traveling nurses and our internal traveler nurses receive nearly identical take-home rates,” Kumlien said in an emailed statement. “However, external traveling nurse agencies charge health systems a higher rate, keeping approximately 30% for the agency. UW Health is [saving] that 30% when working directly with UW Health nurses.” 

Michele McClure, chief nursing officer at UW Health, University Hospital, says the program has helped keep nurses from leaving the organization. 

“We saw staff sign up for internal ‘traveler’ shifts instead of leaving to become travelers,” she said in the release. “As we work to hire more nurses for our long-term needs, this program supports our talented nurses and the patients who need them now.”

See the release: 

See a recent story on Wisconsin’s projected nursing workforce shortage: 

— Bellin Health and Gundersen Health System have announced they are “deep into discussions” on a planned merger between the two health systems. 

This follows Advocate Aurora Health and Atrium Health recently announcing plans to combine under the new name Advocate Health, after Aurora Health Care previously merged with Advocate Health Care in 2018. An earlier report from Kaufman Hall found that while the number of health care mergers and acquisitions dropped in 2021, the size of these deals has increased substantially in recent years. 

The two not-for-profit organizations say a final agreement is expected to be completed in the coming weeks before being submitted for regulatory review. Bellin Health is based in Green Bay and Gundersen is based in La Crosse. 

Their current service areas cover parts of Wisconsin, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Minnesota and Iowa, according to a release announcing the planned merger. If the health systems merge, the combined entity would include 11 hospitals and over 100 local clinic locations, the release shows. 

The health systems plan to offer more options and resources while allowing patients to continue seeing the care providers “they know and trust.” 

The systems say they would keep their respective corporate headquarters in Green Bay and La Crosse, led by a CEO and board chair located in different regions “to ensure shared decision-making and equal representation.” 

In a media call yesterday, Bellin Health President and CEO Chris Woleske said the merger would enhance care access and quality of care for patients across the Midwest, while helping to address supply chain challenges. 

“Oftentimes, unfortunately, we can face shortages of important drugs or supplies that we need in order to treat our patients,” she said. “What I see happening as we come together through a merged entity is our ability to look across our geography to bring those supplies to the place that needs them most.” 

Meanwhile, Gundersen Health System President Dr. Scott Rathgaber said the proposed merger would help the health systems build a larger care network through a newly formed company. 

“We would assess whether this would have any effect on naming considerations in the future, but nothing is changing overnight,” he said. 

Bellin Health currently has over 5,000 employees and Gundersen Health System has over 9,000 employees, the release shows. No layoffs are expected to occur due to the merger, Woleske and Rathgaber said. 

See the release: 

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— WEDC is authorizing up to $56,000 in state income tax credits to support American Wood Fibers expanding its operations in Schofield. 

According to a release from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., the animal bedding manufacturer plans to spend $1.7 million to establish a new production line and add 10 new jobs over the next three years. The company can earn the tax credits by hitting certain job creation and capital expenditure benchmarks over that period, the release shows. 

See the release: 

— Researchers at UW-Madison have created a method to rapidly test metal alloys for use in energy systems using corrosive molten salt. 

An overview from the university notes molten salt can be used for a variety of functions in concentrated solar power plants and certain types of nuclear reactors. But because this material can corrode metal, scientists have been working to develop metal alloys that can withstand this effect. 

In a study published last month in the journal Advanced Science, researchers described a method for testing many types of alloys at once using 3D printing, machine learning and other technologies. 

“Traditionally, a researcher could maybe investigate a handful of alloys over a few years,” Adrien Couet, an associate professor of engineering physics, said in the university’s report. “Now, with this new approach, we can study about 100 to 150 alloys in six months to a year, so it’s a big acceleration of the process.”

See the study here: 

See more details on this method in the UW-Madison report: 

— Executives with the Green Bay Packers and Oshkosh Corporation have joined the New North Board of Directors. 

This economic development group focuses on the 18-county region of northeast Wisconsin. Its two new board members are: Aaron Popkey, director of public affairs for the Green Bay Packers; and John Verich, senior vice president and treasurer for Oshkosh Corporation. 

See the release: 


# Milwaukee Common Council unanimously approves RNC agreement

# ‘There’s a lot to protect here’: These small Wisconsin towns want more regulations for big farms

# Fed up with supply chain delays, Wisconsin company turns to Twin Ports shipping service to move goods



– Record broken! Wisconsin all milk price hits $27.10

– First crop hay cutting already at 13 percent in Wisconsin


– Ixonia Bank names new CEO with Westrope retiring


– Here’s what the Menasha Joint School District hopes to do with a potential $99.7 million referendum and how it would affect taxes


– Milwaukee is receiving $2 million to build a water utility workforce to address vacancies and more quickly tackle replacement of lead lines

– How one Door County farm uses food scraps to fuel crops, help the planet


– State Street restaurant near Fiserv Forum serving pizzas cooked in 5 minutes opens this month


– A look inside Wisconsin’s first medical recuperative shelter for homeless families

– Health care consolidation continues as Bellin, Gundersen set to merge


– Bars and restaurants lose COVID insurance decision at Wisconsin Supreme Court

– Mayor Johnson calls for universal driver’s education, funded by insurance companies


– Green Bay Packers’ VC firm TitletownTech leads $2M investment in construction startup


– $2M in federal money to help fill Milwaukee Water Works vacancies


– Borgman Capital acquires Dairyfood USA


– Ereztech to move its manufacturing operations from Sheboygan Falls to Saukville

– Building blocks: Spike Brewing manufacturing plant

– Husco wins its largest contract as CEO meets Sen. Baldwin on supply chain issues


– What caused Milwaukee Common Council’s sudden reversal on RNC pact?


– Milwaukee rental households deal with rising rent costs

– Royal Capital plans $200M development on Milwaukee’s northwest side


– Kegel’s Inn owner buys neighboring restaurant property


– Fred Sitzberger donates $1 million to UWM athletics


– Brat_Wave brags a better cook on brats, according to the Menasha veteran who invented it


– Milwaukee Night Market vendor lineup announced


– No, the City of Racine couldn’t have hired more cops with money used to buy electric buses


– City council members clash over new framework that would guide La Crosse away from fossil fuels


<i>See these and other press releases: </i>

Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.: American Wood Fibers turns waste into new products with WEDC support

First Stage: Summer Theater Academy registration is still open and classes begin Monday, June 13

Wisconsin Cattlemen’s Association: To host Summer Production Tour